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Library lot office building back on track

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At their final meeting Monday night, members of Evanston’s 79th City Council voted to reverse the vote they’d taken last month and authorize the city manager to negotiate a contract to sell the city parking lot at 1714-1720 Chicago Ave.

The project as currently proposed by the developers the city has been working with on the project would see an 11-story building constructed on the site that would provide space for more than 500 additional office jobs downtown.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, led the move to revive the project, saying that after some reflection, he’d concluded that the aldermen cut off discussion about the project prematurely.

“We all want something brilliant” on the site, Wilson said, “And I don’t know yet whether the developers can come up with something brillant.”

Referring to objections from opponents of the project made during public comment earlier in the meeting, Wilson said the project is not a “done deal.”

“This is a negotiation,” he added.

Assuming the developer comes up with a proposal satisfactory to members of the new City Council sworn in later Monday night, the project will still need a two-thirds vote to approve the contract for sale the city manager is to negotiate.

Then plans for the building will need to go through the city’s planned development process. That includes a recommendation from the Plan Commission and ultimately another approval vote by the City Council.

With three new faces on the new City Council, it’s difficult to forecast whether the project will make it through those upcoming votes.

On April 24 only aldermen Judy Fiske and Delores Holmes had voted for the project. Monday the only votes cast against it came from aldermen Ann Rainey and Melissa Wynne. Alderman Mark Tendam, who’d voted against the project the first time around, was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Representatives and supporters of the two adjacent non-profit property owners, who have opposed the city’s plans to sell the parking lot for an office development since they were first announced last July, were tipped off to the move to reconsider the decision and spoke against it during public comment.

Lori Osborne of the Evanston History Center said the city’s process “has not been open or transparent.”

“If there’s a need for an office building in Evanston,” Osborne asked, “Why aren’t there developers proposing to build one elsewhere than on the library lot?

Sara Schastok, retired head of the Evanston Community Foundation, said the situation was shaping up to be comparable to what she called “the Harley Clarke debacle.”

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